MANILA - "It is the season of giving, but sorry, we can't receive."
So said Agriculture Chief Emmanuel Piñol on Wednesday as he shared how he returned a Rolex luxury watch worth P450,000.
On Facebook, Piñol wrote he received the gift during a dinner hosted by the executives of "a very large agricultural company" that he declined to name.
He said he did not give much importance to the box containing the gift since he often receives small tokens and handicraft items as part of the courtesies during formal meetings and events.
"The one I received recently was just stuffed in a bag along with the other mementos which I usually receive during ceremonial exchange of gifts," he narrated.
"It was not until I was in my farm in Kidapawan City, when I decided to open the box and I almost fell off my seat when I saw what was inside the box. It was a Rolex submariner, a watch which almost every man dreams of owning."
Piñol said a friend back in 1995 gave him a Rolex Oyster Perpetual before he entered politics. He said he seldom uses the watch that is now "so old that it spends more time in the repair shop than on my wrist."
The Secretary said he checked the price of the new Rolex online and found that it costs about P450,000.
"I would be lying if I say that the thought of keeping it did not cross my mind. Who does not like to own a Rolex anyway?" he said.
But he decided to return the gift because doing otherwise is illegal.
"I explained that I could not take the gift because not only because the company is involved in activities which would require the supervision of the Department which I head but also because the law prohibits officials like me from accepting expensive gifts," he said.
"I added that I could go to jail if I was found to have kept the watch or accepted expensive gifts from people with interests in the Dept. of Agriculture."
After turning over the watch to the giver, Piñol said: "I felt as if a huge burden was taken off my back."
"Now, I can look at anybody straight in the eye and tell them that I am following President Rody Duterte's directive that members of his Cabinet must not be linked to any act of corruption," he added.
The Agriculture chief also urged his fellow public officials to carefully discern the gifts they would receive this Christmas.